The final form of the motto and its placement upon currency were forged entirely within this crucible of national turmoil (lasting from 1861 to 1865). The Reverend M. R. Watkinson, in a letter dated November 13, 1861, petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognising "Almighty God in some form in our coins." At least part of the motivation was to declare that God was on the Union side of the Civil War.
Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase acted on this proposal and directed the then-Philadelphia Director of the Mint, James Pollock, to begin drawing up possible designs that would include the religious phrase. Chase chose his favorite designs and presented a proposal to Congress for the new designs in late 1863.
As Chase was preparing his recommendation to Congress, it was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States. This meant that the mint could make no changes without the enactment of additional legislation by the Congress. Such legislation was introduced and passed on April 22, 1864, allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to authorize the inclusion of the phrase on one-cent and two-cent coins.
An Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865, allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary's approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that "shall admit the inscription thereon." In 1873, Congress passed the Coinage Act, granting that the Secretary of the Treasury "may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto."
The use of "In God we trust" has not been uninterrupted. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. In 1908, Congress made it mandatory that the phrase be printed on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. This decision was motivated after a public outcry following the release of a $20 coin which did not bear the motto. The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908. Since 1938, all US coins have borne the motto.
A quarter dollar with the United States' official motto "In God we trust" on the obverse side
In 1956, the nation was at a particularly tense time in the Cold War, and the United States wanted to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism. As a result, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution "declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States." The law was signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, and the motto was progressively added to paper money over a period from 1957 to 1966. (Public Law 84-851) The United States Code at 36 U.S.C.§ 302, now states: "'In God we trust' is the national motto."
In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, the Senate reaffirmed "In God we trust" as the official national motto of the United States of America. In 2011 the House of Representatives passed an additional resolution reaffirming "In God we trust" as the official motto of the United States, in a 396-9 vote. According to a 2003 joint poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.
Melkote Ramaswamy, an Hindu American scholar, writes that the presence of the phrase “In God we trust” on American currency is a reminder that “there is God everywhere, whether we are conscious or not.” In Judaism and Christianity, the official motto "In God we trust" resounds with several verses from the Bible, including Psalm 118:8, Psalm 40:3, Psalm 73:28, and Proverbs 29:25.Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim imam writes that the phrase “In God we trust” also resonates with early Islamic teaching, adapted from Christianity and Judaism, offering two verses from the Qur’an, Quran 3:193 and Quran 2:285.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, many public schools across the United States posted "In God We Trust" framed posters in their "libraries, cafeterias and classrooms." The American Family Association supplied several 11-by-14-inch posters to school systems and vowed to defend any legal challenges to the displaying of the posters.
In popular culture
An urban myth (wrongly) suggests that it was omitted from new U.S. dollar coins.
Many US States now offer "In God We Trust" stickers for purchase to place on their license plates.
Indiana manufactures license plates with this slogan on it as a standard plate option. It may be selected in lieu of the standard license plate for no additional fee.
Those who advocate the separation of church and state have questioned the legality of this motto, asserting that it violates United States Constitution which forbids the government from passing any law respecting the establishment of religion. Religious accommodationists state that this entrenched practice has not historically presented any constitutional difficulty, is not coercive, and does not prefer one religious denomination over another.
The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." The decision was cited in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a 2004 case on the Pledge of Allegiance. These acts of "ceremonial deism" are "protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." In Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the Supreme Court also held that the nation's "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being" and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution's authors intended to prohibit.
Outside of constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.
^Felicia Sonmez (1 November 2011). "Social issues return to fore with 'In God We Trust' resolution". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2011. "“In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, the Senate reaffirmed ‘In God We Trust’ as the official national motto of the United States,” Forbes said in a statement announcing the vote. “Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will have the same opportunity to reaffirm our national motto and directly confront a disturbing trend of inaccuracies and omissions, misunderstandings of church and state, rogue court challenges, and efforts to remove God from the public domain by unelected bureaucrats.”"
^Jennifer Steinhauer (3 November 2011). "In God We Trust, With the House's Help". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 November 2011. "Citing a crisis of national identity and mass confusion among Americans about their nation’s motto, the House on Tuesday voted on a resolution “reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States.”"
^Todd Starnes (3 November 2011). "See Which Congressmen Voted Against 'In God We Trust'". Fox News. Retrieved 7 November 2011. "The House of Representatives passed a bi-partisan resolution Tuesday night reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States. The 396-9 vote came at the request of Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA)."
^ abRichard H. Fallon (2004). The Dynamic Constitution: an Introduction to Americans Constitutional Law. Cambridge University Press. p. 60. ISBN9780521600781. ""Strict separationists" believe that the government has no business supporting religious beliefs or institutions in any way - for example, by providing tax breaks to churches, assisting parochial schools, including prayers or benedictions in public ceremonies, or inscribing "In God We Trust" on the currency. Religious accommodationists can well explain why certain entrenched social practices (such as the inscription of "In God We Trust" on the currency) were not historically perceived as presenting constitutional difficulties: The relevant practices are not coercive and do not prefer one narrow sect over another."
^ABA Journal Sep 1962. "Much more recently, in 1952, speaking through Mr. Justice Douglas in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313, the Supreme Court repeated the same sentiments, saying: We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. Mr. Justice Brewer in the Holy Trinity case, supra, mentioned many of these evidences of religion, and Mr. Justice Douglas in the Zorach case referred to ... [P]rayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "So help me God" in our courtroom oaths - these and ... other references to the Almighty ... run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies ... the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court" (312-313). To this list may be added tax exemption of churches, chaplaincies in the armed forces, the "Pray for Peace" postmark, the widespread observance of Christmas holidays, and, in classrooms, singing the fourth stanza of America which is prayer invoking the protection of God, and the words "in God is our trust" as found in the National Anthem, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, modified by an Act of Congress of June 14, 1954, to included the words "under God"."